Thursday, 4 August 2011

Thing 11 - Mentoring

Funnily enough, I am in a very similar position to Meg who wrote this week's cpd23 post on mentoring - I have 2 mentors also, and again, one is on an informal level, and the other on a more formal level.

The mentoring relationship, however, is not something that I had given a lot of though to, until the time came for me to have an official mentor. My 'official' mentor I had to find as part of the CILIP Chartership process that I am currently involved in. While CILIP state that your mentor does not need to be someone from the same field as you, I decided I would prefer someone from the law library field purely because our kind of librarian roles tend to be worlds apart from that of academia or public libraries, for example, and so I really didn't feel that there would be much benefit in getting someone from another domain for this particular purpose - although on an informal basis it is always very interesting to talk to librarians from all areas!!!

The mentor I have been lucky enough to find to accompany me down the Chartership road does seem to personify everything a mentor should be. He has a tremendous amount of experience, knowledge of the industry and his finger is on the pulse of every new trend and how it affects the information profession. He also plays a very active part in the law librarian community, and indeed the wider librarian/information profession as a whole. Without a doubt he is someone to emulate and frankly, I do not have a clue how he manages to keep all the balls in the air! He is also extremely personable and easy to approach, and always very reassuring/calming when I have emailed him in a tizz over some Chartership-related thing! He is also very honest; I believe that if he doesn't think something I am doing/writing is for the best, he will tell me so - he criticises constructively and gives praise where it's due. Equally, I find I can be honest with him and tell him if I don't understand or agree with what he suggests. I have confidence in his opinions and advice and am happy to be guided through the minefield that is putting together a portfolio by him!

But what of the mentee, i.e. me? What do I bring to the mentoring relationship? Meg talks about how a mentee should do the following:

"...[as a ] mentee, your role is not to accept the advice and assistance of a mentor passively, but to try to give back in terms of gratitude, professional sharing, and enthusiasm. You should be quite clear about your strengths and weaknesses and be honest about what sort of assistance you would like your mentor to provide."

This is quite significant to me, as sometimes I am fully aware that I lack confidence in my own opinions, and so very often I prefer to just ask for someone else's opinion to either back up my own, or just to base my actions on - therefore I have to always consciously work against the notion of just taking the advice passively. I try my best to take on board what he says, but - as I mentioned above - tell him what my thoughts are, and if I am not happy or comfortable enough to go down a particular road.

I hope that I give back in terms of gratitude (not least by writing this glowing testimonial on him...!!) - I always thank him for his assistance, and try to actually action what we talk about, rather than just agree with him on everything, but never actually get anything constructive done after we have met. The one thing that does worry me is professional sharing - sometimes I do feel that really, what is there that I could possibly share with him that he doesn't already know? But then I think, well, we might work in the same field but actually, we do very different jobs, therefore there are probably many experiences that I have that would be new to him, and vice versa.

In terms of being honest about strengths and weaknesses, I must admit this is something I do not struggle with. I am by nature quite an upfront person - if something is bothering me, I prefer to just get it out in the open; equally, I don't pretend to know all about things I actually know nothing of. From the outset I have been very clear about the areas I feel are weak - this is something I need to do anyway, in order to set myself goals during the Chartership period, so it would have been foolish to pretend that I have no major weaknesses! Strengths are equally important, and hopefully my mentor is getting to know what mine are.

My informal mentor is a lady I actually mentioned in my (lengthy!) Thing 10 post. If you didn't quite make it that far, said lady is someone who started a couple of weeks after me in my very first law firm job, although obviously she was at a higher level, as at that point I think she had at least 5 years - maybe more - experience in law firm libraries. I can say with my hand on my heart - I very much doubt I would have stayed in that first job as long as I did if it hadn't been for this woman. She quickly realised that I had absolutely zilch experience in all things legal, and moreover, that no one else in the team had bothered to go through the very basics of law - for example, what a law report actually is; how legislation is made; how to find cases and legislation online - and many other things of that ilk. She took it upon herself to go through a number of topics with me, answered my questions, gave me useful websites to look short, she became my unofficial supervisor.

I definitely believe that a mentor is someone who you should look up to and have as a role model, and this lady remains that person for me today. Over the years I observed a great deal about her that I very much admire - and it's not just about her technical knowledge, she has a wonderful way with people and can relate well to everyone from all levels. She has a natural, warm persona which makes her very approachable, and when you do ask her something, she will explain it very clearly, and answer any questions patiently, without ever making you feel like a nuisance for asking. This is something I admired greatly and have tried to ensure is the impression I give to colleagues. When we worked together, I loved the way she interacted with the lawyers - she is the sort of person who can make friends with everyone, and although I know I will never be quite the same - in short I am probably a lot more shy - without a doubt she remains the best role model I could ever have for doing my job, and indeed I base a lot of the training sessions that I give today on her methods. She has a wonderful sense of humour , probably quite similar to mine, and she has a unique way of keeping training sessions light hearted, but getting the points across clearly and concisely at the same time.

As we got to know each other better, our friendship grew stronger outside of work as well as inside, and she has supported me through many ups and downs over the last 6 years. In fact to this day we still joke about how to me, she will always be 'senior librarian', and although I don't work with her anymore - we both left the firm within a month of each other - I still draw on my observations of her handling of many situations. I believe I am very lucky to have met someone who has had such a strong influence on my career, and even now, I don't hesitate to ask for her advice if something is troubling me at work.

It is only when I think about it that I realise how much I have got - and am getting - out of the mentoring relationships I have, that I realise how important a mentor, be it formal or informal, actually is with regard to your professional development. The experiences I have had with mentoring have definitely made me want to give something back - and I do try to do so when I can with our library assistant, for example. Qualifications are important of course, but you can also learn a great deal from just asking and observing colleagues whom you think do their job particularly well. It would be nice one day to be one of those people!

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1 comment:

  1. Wow - that's some praise for your formal and informal mentors!

    You should be very proud of what you've achieved so far as part of the CILIP Chartership process and as part of CPD23.

    I have no doubt that you have many experiences to share and that we can all learn from them no matter what they are. After all we're all on a continual learning curve.